Dr Peter Oakley


  • Peter Oakley leads staff research activities across the School of Material, helping develop new research projects and secure project funding. Peter has extensive knowledge of digital, industrial, studio and bespoke manufacturing processes, material standards and related analytical techniques, ethical and sustainable material sourcing and the role of heritage in constructing object identities and communities. He has experience of using a range of research methodologies, including ethnographic fieldwork, interviews, oral histories, object analysis, experimental reconstruction and research through practice.

  • Biography

  • After working as an analytical chemist, Peter studied ceramics at the University of Brighton, the Gerrit Reitveld Academie and the Royal College of Art. Upon graduating he used his modelling and mould-making skills to support design projects and for restoration work. During the 1990s Peter held teaching positions at Camberwell College of Art, De Montfort University and Surrey Institute of Art and Design. From 2002 to 2005 he was the course leader for the BA Applied Arts programme at Plymouth College of Art. Peter’s ongoing interest in making techniques and communities of makers led to full-time research in the Department of Anthropology, University College London (UCL) and fieldwork in the southwest United States. There he studied the manufacture of ‘Indian Jewellery’ and its display and retail at heritage locations. Following this, Peter was employed for two years by the SWLLN (a UK regional development project) to create university-level courses in heritage and cultural tourism, working with universities, colleges and key heritage organisations across South West England. Peter then returned to UCL, spending the next four years (2008−12) researching the UK’s fine jewellery industry and its supply chains, including the emergence of ethical gold sourcing initiatives. In 2012 Peter joined the RCA as the School of Material’s Research Leader.

    Peter is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) and a member of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry (SHAC), the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS) and the Association of Research Managers and Assistants (ARMA). He is also an Honorary Research Fellow at UCL and a member of the editorial board for the peer-review journal Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption.

    Peter is currently the Co-Investigator for the two year research project: Extending the Potential of the Digitally Printed Ceramic Surface, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and Participant Contact for the ArcInTex European Teaching Network, funded by the EU Commission through Horizon2020-MSCA-ITN.

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  • Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes

  • Academic Journal Articles

    Oakley, Peter (2015) ‘Is Gold Jewellery Money?’, Social Analysis, special edition [forthcoming]

    Oakley, Peter (2015) ‘Ticking Boxes: (re)constructing the wristwatch as a luxury object’, Luxury: History, Culture, Consumption, Vol.1, No.2.

    Oakley, Peter (2014) ‘Crafting with Digital Technologies: issues in practice’, Making Futures, vol.3

    Oakley, Peter (2010) ‘Does Contemporary Craft Carry a Social Deficit? An analysis through comparison with related creative practices’, Making Futures, vol.1

    Book Chapters

    Oakley, Peter (2015) ‘Introducing Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold: An attempt to reconfigure the social identity of a substance’, in: Adam Drazin and Susanne Kuechler (eds), The Social Life of Materials, London, New Dehli, New York, Sydney: Bloomsbury 

    Oakley, Peter (2015) ‘A Permanent State of Decay: Contrived dereliction at heritage mining sites’, in: Hilary Orange (ed.), Reanimating Industrial Spaces, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press 

    Oakley, Peter (2014) 'Contrived Dereliction: Employing an aesthetic of decay at mining heritage sites', in: Mike Robinson et al (eds.) Cultural Heritage and Tourism Vol.2: Engagement and Experience. Taipei: Farterng Culture CO

    Oakley, Peter, and Küchler, Susanne (2013) ‘New Materials and their Impact on the Material World’, in: Penny Harvey, Eleanor Casella, Gillian Evans, Hannah Knox, Christine McLean, Elizabeth B. Silva, Nicholas Thoburn, Kath Woodward (eds), Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion, London: Routledge

    Oakley, Peter (2013) ‘Containing Precious Metals: the material consequences of hallmarking in modern and medieval England’, in: Hans Peter Hahn and Hadas Weis (eds), Mobility, Meaning and Transformations of Things: Shifting contexts of material culture through time and space, Oxford: Oxbow Books

    Oakley, Peter (2008) ‘Praxeological Subjectification: the hidden power of practical activities’, in: Kate Hatton (ed.), Design Pedagogy Research, Huddersfield: Jeremy Mills

    Published Conference Papers

    Oakley, Peter (2015) 'Digital Crafting: Re-evaluating Promises and Pitfalls' (English text with full translation into Korean). In: Making Futures Korea: Craft, meeting the new through changes in perception. Cheongju: Cheongju International Craft Biennale Committee.

    Oakley, Peter (2014) ‘Contrived Dereliction: employing an aesthetic of decay at mining heritage sites’, in: Tourism and the Shifting Values of Cultural Heritage Conference Papers (Taipei, April 5-9, 2013), University of Birmingham, National Taipei University of Education and National Taiwan University 

    Industry Publications

    Oakley, Peter (2012) ‘Reflections on Ethical Gold’, in: The Goldsmiths’ Company Technical Journal 2012

    Oakley, Peter (2011) ‘Ethical Highs and Lows in 2011’, in: Benchpeg Almanack 2011

    The Ethical Gold Series for Benchpeg:

    Oakley, Peter (2010) ‘Introducing Ethical Gold’, in: Benchpeg 162, 9–15 May 2010

    Oakley, Peter (2010) ‘So What’s Wrong with Gold Mining Anyway?’, in: Benchpeg 167, 13–19 June 2010

    Oakley, Peter (2010) ‘Industrial Mining and Anti-Mining Campaigns’, in Benchpeg 173, 25–31 July 2010

    Oakley, Peter (2010) ‘Why is ASM Different?’, in: Benchpeg 178, 29 August–4 September 2010

    Oakley, Peter (2010) ‘Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold', in: Benchpeg 187, 31 October–6 November 2010

    Conference, Workshop and Seminar Papers


    'Playing Dead? Maintaining Neutrality in Collaborations with Ethical Campaigners', Anthropology Spring Seminar Series: Collaboration & the Contemporary Research Milieu, Goldsmiths, University of London, 3 February 2016.


    'Digital Crafting: Re-evaluating Promises and Pitfalls', Making Futures Korea, conference, part of the Cheongju International Craft Biennale, 9-10 October, 2015.

    'Digital Crafting: Defining the Field', Making Futures IV, conference, Plymouth College of Art, 24-25 September, 2015

    'Moralising Gold Supply Chains'. Winchester Luxury Research Group Seminar Series, Southampton University, 29 April 2015

    Origin Myths and Realities: unpacking the historic narratives of mining heritage sites, the first event in the Future Pasts/Present Futures seminar series at the Institute of Archaeology UCL, 12 January 2015


    ‘Crafting with Digital Technologies’ (keynote presentation), Making Futures: Beijing, part of Beijing Design Festival, Dashilar Hutong, Beijing, 28 September 2014

    ‘The Heart of Gold: manufacturing objects and material identities’, Anthropology in London, annual conference, London School of Economics and University College London, 24 June 2014


    ‘Gold Jewellery as Money: the covert social identity of a class of object’, Value and Equivalence,workshop, Goethe Universitaet Frankfurt am Main, 30 November 2013

    ‘Crafting with Digital Technologies: issues in practice’, Making Futures 3, conference, Plymouth College of Art, 27 September 2013

    ‘Immanence vs. Provenance: Fairtrade Gold and the social complexity of substance identities’ (highlight presentation), First European Conference on the Social Sciences, IAFOR, Brighton, 6 July 2013

    'Contrived Dereliction: employing an aesthetic of decay at mining heritage sites', Tourism and the Shifting Values of Cultural Heritage conference, co-organised by University of Birmingham, National Taipei University of Education and National Taiwan University, and held in Taipei, 8 April 2013


    ‘The Rise and Fall of the Jewellery District in England’, TAG Annual Conference, University of Liverpool, 19 December 2012

    ‘Managing a Stream of Gold: the UK Assay Office in the 20th century’, SHAC Annual Meeting, held at the Science Museum, London, 8 December 2012

    ‘Agency and the XRF’, Anthropology in the World, conference, Royal Anthropological Institute, held at the British Museum, 9 June 2012


    ‘Containing Gold: institutional attempts to define and constrict the values of precious metal objects’, Itineraries of the Material, conference, Goethe Universitaet Frankfurt am Main, 7 October 2011

    ‘Tested by Fire: the social impact of technological changes in assaying’, SHAC Workshop, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University, 21 September 2011

    ‘Mapping Ethical Gold: Material Classifications and their Material Consequences’, RGS and IBG Annual Conference, held at the Royal Geographic Society, 2 September 2011

    ‘A Trace of Gold: the Ambiguous Nature of Abandoned Gold Mines’, Anthropology in London, annual conference, Brunel University and University College London, 20 July 2011


    ‘A Mine of Information: presenting the social histories of heritage mining sites’, European Archaeological Association Annual Conference, held at The Hague, 3 September 2010

    ‘Making Indian Jewellery in the Southwest: interactions across material cultures’, Sainsbury Research Unit Seminar, University of East Anglia, 22 April 2010

    ‘The Trouble with Gold: assaying, hallmarking and governmentality’, RCA/V&A History of Design Research Seminars (Asian and Modern strands), held at the V&A, 18 February 2010


    ‘Does Contemporary Craft Carry a Social Deficit? An analysis through comparison with related creative practices’, Making Futures III conference, Plymouth College of Art. 18 September 2009.


    ‘The Motivations and Practice of Educational Enactors’, Selling or Telling? ATLAS Annual Conference, University of Brighton, 4 July 2008.

    ‘Educational Enactment at Heritage Sites: issues in practice’, Bringing History to Life tourism employers conference, Cornwall College, 21 February 2008.


    ‘1st Class images? Tourist postcards as potential records of indigenous craft practice’, Tourism & the Visual conference, University of Brighton, 14 June 2007.

    ‘Praxeological Subjectification: the Hidden Power of Practical Activities’, Design & Pedagogy conference, Leeds College of Art & Design, 16 March 2007.

    Panel Appearances


    Speaker at the 'Magic of Materials', Salon Supper for RA Architecture Patrons, organised by Royal Academy of Arts and held at Burlington Gardens, London, 24 June 2015

    Panel Chair for Materials Reborn?, convened by the Arts Foundation as part of COLLECT 2015, held at the Saatchi Gallery, London, 10 May 2015

    Panel Member and moderator for Sustainable Material for the Common Good, a breakout session at the 4th Sustainable Luxury Forum, held in Geneva, 4–6 February 2015


    Panel Member for Cast, Conceive, Cut: Materials and Production, the second of three Architecture and Materials sessions organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 22 October 2014

    Panel Member for Crafting 2.0, part of Making Futures: Beijing (27–28 September 2014), an event at the 2014 Beijing Design Festival, 28 September 2014


    Panel Chair for keynote speakers panel. The conference, Towards A Progressive Arts Education (6–8 November 2013), was organised by UAL and held at the British Library, London, 7 November 2013

    Plenary Panel Member for Making Futures 3, (27–28 September 2013), a conference organised by Plymouth College of Art and held at the Mount Edgecombe Estate, Plymouth, 28 September 2013

    Panel Chair for contributors’ discussion at Materials Innovation. The event, part of the 2013 London Design Festival, was organised by the Arts Foundation and held at the V&A, London, 17 September 2013

    Panel Chair for Sustainable Luxury Innovation: dealing with a multi-dimensional terrain, a breakout session at the 3rd Sustainable Luxury Forum (18–19 June 2013) held in Geneva, 19 June 2013


    Panel Member for Advanced Manufacturing session, part of ASSEMBLE 2012, a one-day conference organized by the Crafts Council and held at RIBA, London, 20 September 2012

    Panel Chair for Ethics and Sustainability: 2011-2012 and Beyond, part of the Benchpeg seminar series held at International Jewellery London (IJL) in Earl’s Court 2, 2 September 2012

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Selected work